Climate disasters warning

TASMANIAN scientists yesterday warned of increasingly acidic oceans and sea levels rising faster than expected.

Hobart-based Will Howard, project leader of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre ocean acidification team, said the potential for an increasingly acidic ocean to affect marine ecosystems had been suggested for several years.

The warnings were delivered at a climate-change conference in Copenhagen.

“Today’s results publish the first evidence from nature, rather than a laboratory, that the two are linked,” Mr Howard said.

“The potential knock-on effects pose significant implications for the oceanic food chain and the findings are a worrying signal of what we can expect to see elsewhere in the future.

“The Southern Ocean is giving a strong indication of an acidification process that will spread throughout the global ocean.”

If the results from the Southern Ocean were applicable to larger areas of ocean, the process of ocean acidification could lead to ecosystem shifts, Dr Howard said. A 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected a sea-level rise of 18cm to 59cm.

But Hobart climate and ocean-change expert John Church, of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, told the conference that, unless urgent and significant mitigation action was taken, “the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century committing the world to a sea level rise of metres”.

Because of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were already contributing more to sea-level rise than anticipated, he said.

Commenting from Canberra yesterday, Australian Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the world’s leading scientists were warning that “now is not the time to go slow in reducing emissions”.

The conference’s conclusions will be presented to politicians meeting in Copenhagen in December to debate a new global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Meryl Naidoo,, 12 March 2009. Article.

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